This paper will focus on just two aspects of Indian culture, namely religion and marriage.
More than 80% of Indians would regard themselves as adherents of the Hindu religion, while some 12% are Muslim and there are small minorities of Christian, Sikh and other religions each numbering between 2 and 3%. These numbers may appear small, but when one considers that the population of India is over 1.15 billion people, it is clear that they also are significant in size. The focus here will be the Hindu majority, though it should be remembered that the other religions also have their place in Indian society.
One of the first things that strike a visitor to India is the pervasive influence of the caste system. Fuller (1992, p.3) points out that the Indian form of greeting is a symbolic act which reflects this main tenet of the Hindu world view. The hands are placed together, fingers pointing upwards, and the head is bowed, while the person says “namaste” which is the word for this gesture of respect. There are more elaborate forms, such as bowing low, or even lying prostrated on the ground, and more cursory forms, such as a mere flick of the head and hand. People use this gesture to greet people, and also to show respect to the many gods and goddesses that abound in their temples across the land. What this gesture reveals is that the Hindu religion is based upon a hierarchical inequality. Unlike a European handshake, the Hindu greeting expresses a fundamental asymmetry of rank in which both parties are aware of their own and the other’s place. So, for example, a wife shows this respect to her husband, and so does a child to his or her parents, and an employee to his or her employer. This hierarchical structure is evident all across the society, and whole groups, or castes of people are classified with a particular position above and below other castes.